Dram Shop Liability Attorney

dram shop attorney free consultationWhen you compare drunk driving statistics across the country, South Carolina ranks among the worst. In recent years, the state was positioned third—behind just Montana and Wyoming—in alcohol-related traffic fatalities per capita.

While the Palmetto State sees an alarmingly high number of drunk driving deaths, it has a relatively low rate of DUI arrests. Put another way, impaired motorists aren’t all that prevalent, but those who do get behind the wheel while under the influence frequently leave immense devastation in their wake.

If you or someone you love was struck by a drunk driver, you’re probably concerned about your family’s financial security. The associated damages can add up fast, for sure.   

Thankfully, South Carolina has a fault-based system for handling car accidents. That means those who are to blame for a wreck are generally responsible for the associated losses that victims incur.

When it comes to liability insurance, however, the state only requires motorists to carry $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in total bodily injury coverage. Just a few days in the hospital can easily amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Tack on the fee for the ambulance and that first night in the emergency department, and it quickly becomes clear how the cost of drunk driving-related injuries can surpass the liable motorist’s total available insurance coverage.

Fortunately, victims often have another avenue by which to seek compensation. South Carolina recognizes “dram shop liability,” which holds bars and restaurants liable for overserving patrons. It also applies to establishments that supply alcohol to minors and to social hosts who keep serving clearly intoxicated or underage guests at their homes. 

When Can You Hold a Third Party Liable for a Drunk Driving Accident?

Dram shop liability aims to ensure victims are compensated adequately when they are hurt at the hands of a drunk driver. For an injured party to hold a bar, restaurant, or social host liable under this legal doctrine, they must prove the defendant served or sold alcohol to the motorist prior to the accident. They must also show that the motorist was either underage or impaired at the time of the interaction. In South Carolina, an individual is considered impaired when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher.

Since the Palmetto State has a modified comparative fault rule, claimants must also demonstrate how the motorist in question was at least 51 percent responsible for the collision. This is not specific to cases involving dram shop liability; it applies to all personal injury actions.

What Kinds of Damages Can You Seek by Suing on the Grounds of Dram Shop Liability?

Establishments and social hosts can be held responsible for both economic and non-economic damages. Examples include:

  • Medical bills,
  • Lost wages,
  • Lost earning capacity,
  • Replacement services,
  • Home and vehicle modifications,
  • Property repairs,
  • Scarring and disfigurement,
  • Sexual dysfunction,
  • Depression,
  • Anxiety,
  • Mental anguish,
  • Psychological trauma,
  • Loss of enjoyment in life, and
  • Pain and suffering.

While most successful car accident claims yield only compensatory damages, like the kinds listed here, actions involving drunk driving often warrant a punitive award, as well. South Carolina allows for the recovery of punitive damages when the defendant’s conduct was a violation of a statute or amounted to a reckless disregard for the life, health, or safety of others. Based on this, Plaintiffs in a case against a drunk driver can usually make a strong argument for a punitive damages recovery.

To account for all these losses, which can easily amount to six- or even seven-figures, the state has implemented additional coverage requirements for applicable establishments. Bars and restaurants that have a license to sell alcohol for immediate consumption on the premises must carry at least $1 million in liability insurance.

While there is no similar mandate for social hosts, homeowners are generally required by their mortgage lender to purchase liability insurance. A standard policy might include $100,000 in coverage, but homeowners are encouraged to get at least $500,000 in liability insurance or to tack on an umbrella policy for maximum protection. While this is not nearly as much coverage as a bar or restaurant might have, it’s still considerably more than the average motorist is required to purchase.

Thankfully, under the law victims only have to prove the bar, restaurant, or social host was 1 percent liable for the accident in which they were hurt in order to file a third-party claim. In other words, if they can show the establishment contributed to the collision in even a small way, they can hold them financially accountable for all the resulting losses (up to the insurance policy’s limits, of course).

How Can You Prove an Establishment Violated the Dram Shop Statutes?

To sue on the grounds of dram shop liability, the plaintiff must convince the court that the defendant knew or should have known the patron who proceeded to drive drunk was intoxicated at the time of service. Having a BAC over the legal limit is definitive proof of this. This may include evidence of  testimony from responding officers, the results of breath tests conducted at the scene, and/or toxicology reports.

Speak with a Spartanburg Dram Shop Liability Attorney

If you or someone you love was seriously hurt by a drunk driver, your family deserves justice. For help picking up the pieces in the aftermath, turn to Hodge & Langley Law Firm. Backed by more than 50 years of collective experience in the legal field, our compassionate team is well-versed in dram shop liability. To schedule your free initial consultation with a dram shop liability lawyer in Spartanburg, fill out our Online Contact Form or call 864-585-3873.

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